Thursday, January 27, 2022

Lake Tahoe in the Spring

Trip date: May 2021

Day 8. Yosemite to Lake Tahoe- 231 miles

What should have been a 5 hour drive from Yosemite to Lake Tahoe took me 6. It was a Wednesday before the first big weekend of the season and there was a lot road construction in the park to get ready. Also I started on a road that ended up being closed and had to backtrack a bit. 

It was a long drive through little towns that had been established during the California Gold Rush. I drove past Groveland, Angels Camp, Jackson; small town Americana. I didn't have time to stop though, my brother was already in Tahoe and I was excited to meet up with him. 

The entire drive was pretty windy but the last part around Emerald Bay on South Lake Tahoe was total white knuckle! I was tired, the road is narrow, has sheer drops on both sides with no guardrails and hairpin turns. It's such a tough drive that the speed limit is 5 MPH!

I finally made it to Sunnyside Resort in Tahoe City;  I had booked the Crystal Bay Suite with a balcony overlooking the lake. My brother was waiting for me at the bar (this was the first time I had sat at a bar because of Covid since March 2020!) with Mai Tais. Seemed odd that we each got 2-free Mai Tai vouchers when we checked in. Even more odd when I saw Hula Pie on the dessert menu. Turns out the resort is part of the TS Restaurants chain that owns Duke's and Kimo's in Hawaii. The mai tais were great! We decided to stay in for the night and had dinner in the restaurant and night caps in my room.

The next morning, after coffee on the deck, Mark and I took off to explore the area since I had never been before. The first thing we did was a bit of shopping in Tahoe City as the temperature was dropping rapidly and it was starting to snow! Coming from high 80s and mid 90s I wasn't packed for snow! Welcome to spring at Tahoe.

Mark was kind enough to drive for the day and it felt nice to be a passenger again! We continued up to the North Shore/ Carnelian Bay area and had lunch at Gar Woods. Both the food and the view were excellent!

After lunch we continued around the lake on the Nevada side down to South Lake Tahoe. This area is definitely more built up and touristy than small Tahoe City on the west. I preferred the quieter area. 

This time when we drove around the 5 mph hairpin turns of Emerald Bay I was able to take in the views. It was still stressful, especially as it was full on snowing, and I was glad to not be driving!

We had originally planned on doing some hiking, but it was an enjoyable day driving around and getting views from all side. We made it back to the lodge and enjoyed 2 more complimentary mai tais in front of a big roaring fire!

That evening we had a really excellent dinner at Christy Hill Bistro. Our starter was the Yukon Gold Potato Hash, with pork loin, pearl onions, buttermilk dressing, and poached egg. YUM! My brother had a lovely steak dish and I had a pasta with rabbit. I'd highly recommend this restaurant, reservations are a must!

The next morning, after breakfast in front of the fire, I drove us to nearby Truckee. The tiny town is super cute and is steeped in history. It's here that the Emigrant Trail acted as a gateway for thousands of people headed west in hopes of opportunity, success, and adventure. 

The town gets crazy amounts of snowfall during the winter, averaging 168" of snow per year. Compare that to the national average of 28" of snow per year!! Truckee is just east of Donner Pass, known for the tragic fate of the Donner Party who tried to cross it in the winter of 1846. 

And because I have a fascination with odd things, I had told my brother that I really wanted to drive over the pass and then explore some of the abandoned train tunnels. And because he is the best, he said ok!

We got off of I 80 and took Donner Summit Road to McGlashan Point. This incredible viewpoint sits at about 6,500 feet elevation. It's dramatic to say the least!! There is a marker commemorating Charles Fayette McGlashan (1847-1931) which counts him as "Truckee’s patriarch, historian, author, editor, attorney, legislator, inventor, entomologist and astronomer." Nearby are also markers to the Donner Pass, Transcontinental Railroad, and others. 

We drove over the Donner Summit Bridge and continued following my map to the Donner Tunnels. Unfortunately my map took me to the wrong spot and we hiked in ankle deep snow for a bit until we decided to head back.

Undeterred, we finally made it to our destination. The connected tunnels are a total of 5-miles, now-abandoned, they were originally built for the transcontinental railroad in 1867 and used for 125 years! Construction was done by Chinese laborers on the route where the first wagon train entered California and stopped being used in 1993. Fascinating!!

The tunnel was creepy! Water drips from the ceiling and there is just a spot of light at each end.  There is graffiti everywhere and empty cans and bottles from past parties litter the ground where tracks once laid. 

We didn't do much of it as we were ready for lunch, but if you plan to do a full tunnel walk or all 5-miles be sure to bring a headlamp or flashlight. And a friend! 

Juxtaposition alert! From here we drove to the Ritz Carlton at the Northstar Ski Resort. The hotel is gorgeous, with a huge 3-story stone chimney and fireplaces on each floor. We had a great lunch and Mark kindly ordered a cocktail so that I could try it :)

If you are visiting the Ritz, it's good to know that the valet parking is $25. 

It had snowed the entire day! At the end of May! That evening we had dinner at Jake's on the Lake, which use to be part of the Hawaiian restaurant chain like our resort, so we experienced some more "mountain aloha" along with our steaks. Well Mark had a steak, I had Main lobster tails just to be transcontinental!
Dinner was very good, and the restaurant also sits looking out over the lake, so it would be a great lunch destination also. 

The next morning it continued to snow so we checked the roads before checking out. I decided to take a little different route to my next destination of southern Oregon. It had been a quick 3-nights catching up with my brother and I loved having him around to explore with!

Saturday, January 22, 2022

Majestic Yosemite National Park

Trip date: May 2021

Day 6. Kings Canyon to Yosemite- 203 miles

It was a tough drive from Kings Canyon to Yosemite. The massive altitude change had made me a bit dizzy, and the windy road up and down the canyon had made me a bit car sick. It was worth it, for sure, but dealing with that for 5 hours while driving across very barren and boring central California wasn't the highlight of my trip! However I was still ridiculously excited for my first visit to Yosemite!

I took CA 180 back out to Fresno and then CA 41 into the park's south entrance, stopping before to gas up as there are no gas stations in the Yosemite Valley. And with my National Park pass they just handed me a map and waved me through at the station.

I had been given excellent advice and information from various friends of friends who are regulars at this 1,200 square mile national park. I'd read books, blogs, you name it. But nothing can prepare you for the absolute spectacular Tunnel View. It was amazing to say the least.

El Capitan dominates the view, its sheer cliff a seemingly unconquerable feat. On the other side the imposing granite Half Dome looms while Bridalveil Falls show off its 150-drop of gushing spring water. The sight is jaw dropping and photos, even Ansel Adams', don't do it justice.

I was super excited to get to the Ahwahnee Lodge where I'd be staying for the next two nights, but the incredible views on the drive in had me stopping to take in the sight of Yosemite Falls from the lush green meadow by Swinging Bridge. 

It's very easy to pull over on the road, there are wide shoulders where you can park and everyone is driving pretty slow because of the amazing scenery. 

At the Ahwahnee the valet explained that because of Covid they were not able to park my car but they would unload it and have everything taken up to my room. As in Sequoia every single thing had to be removed from my car and trunk because of extreme bear activity in the area. 

I parked the car and walked down the red carpeted entrance to the historic hotel which first opened in 1927. I have wanted to stay at this hotel for as long as I can remember. Well since I watched The Shining for the first time. The Ahwahnee lobby was one of the inspirations for Kubrick's Overlook Hotel in the movie. I mean these elevators are iconic!!

But the entire hotel is grand and steeped in history. Great halls, fireplaces that dwarf an average person, walls covered in photos of past eras. It's all the stuff that makes me happy. And I was even happier when I checked into room #339 and saw my view of Yosemite Falls right outside my window! Ahhhhh!!!

I had dinner that night in the massive timbered dining room. The tables were draped in white linens and there was a piano player. It was lovely, except for the food which had to be delivered in take out containers because of Covid protocol at the time. The food was good even if the plating wasn't.

After dinner I enjoyed a nightcap outside under about one billion stars. With hardly any light pollution the sky was the most beautiful sight. The entire setting was magical. 

The next morning I was back in the dining room for breakfast, on-the-house as my room hadn't been ready when I arrived at check-in the day before. It was a stunning morning, warm and not a cloud in the sky. I packed my backpack and cooler and set out for the drive to Glacier Point; the road had just opened for the season 3 days before my trip!

The Ahwahnee Hotel sits right in the middle of the valley on the 1-way loop road that runs both sides of the Merced River. On the way in there is Tunnel View and on the way out you can stop at Yosemite Valley View for a lovely scene across the river.

I had planned on doing a hike on the way to Glacier Point, but when I drove past Sentinel Dome trail head the parking lot was full and there were cars parked along both sides of the road for a long way in each direction. So I continued on and made Washburn Point my first stop, which has fantastic views of Nevada & Vernal Falls as well as Half Dome. 

Once at Glacier Point the view is the almost unbelievable. You are at an elevation of 7,214 feet, looking 3,200 feet down to the park's floor! I could just spot the Ahwahnee looking like a tiny dot!

It's such a cool visual perspective being up so high and looking across at these massive granite mountains! If the road is open when you visit, I'd say this is a do-not-miss.

Driving back down, I was able to find a place to park by the trail head and set off for Sentinel Dome. The trail is rated as moderate and is only 2+ miles, out and back. The scamper up to the top of the dome at the end of the hike is really the only elevation gain. But at 8,000+ feet altitude and with the heat, it was tough for me! 

But holy hell was the view worth it!! You've got a 360-view of the entire park including the High Sierras. I enjoyed my lunch seated on top of this huge dome within sight of the Jeffrey Pine (now dead) that Ansel Adams made famous in 1940. It was all pretty spectacular and the grin remained on my face for the rest of the day.

On the drive back down towards Tunnel View I stopped on the side of the road to take in the enormity of recent forest fires. Entire hillsides were just charred trunks, absolutely heartbreaking. I think this section was from the 2018 Ferguson Fire but I'm not positive.

As I drove back past Tunnel View and then along the loop road, passing in front of El Capitan, Yosemite Falls, Bridalveil Falls, etc. I told myself "you saw all of this yesterday, no stopping, let's get back to the lodge and get a beer!". Who was I kidding... I stopped at every single spot again! The light changes throughout the park so much that I felt like I was looking at things for the very first time!

Back at the Ahwahnee I grabbed a beer from the bar and went outside to the gorgeous patio to enjoy it. As I was relaxing a helicopter came in really close and I watched them perform a rescue on a climber who was stranded on the cliffs above. It was a pretty awesome thing to witness!

I had a lovely dinner in the restaurant again that evening. It had been such an absolutely wonderful day. I was very disappointed that I had only booked 2 nights and not 3. I just loved this lodge and the park so much. The bartender even made excellent Manhattans. 

The next morning after breakfast, I checked out and had the bellhop collect my luggage from my room and store it (couldn't leave it in the car because of bears!) while I went on one last hike. Crossing the hotel's back lawn I found my way to the Mirror Lake trail. 

It's a beautiful and easy trail, over and along the Tenaya Creek, to the base of Half Dome. Since I was short on time I only went as far as Lower Mirror Lake but it was still really gorgeous. And as I passed Washington Column, a couple of guys pointed out the climbers scaling the face to me. So very cool to get to see some climbers!!

On my drive out I made a quick stop at the Ansel Adams Gallery in the village. And then even though I told myself I didn't need to stop and look up at El Capitan or take in the Yosemite Valley View, you know I had to do both. Just one last look!

All photos from Yosemite National Park are here

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